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Issue Four 1. Taije Silverman Interview /1-7 2. Youngsuk Suh Photography /8-23 3. Nader Naderpour Poetry in Translation /24-30 4. Joseph Skibell Interview /31-37 5. Beth Alice Cook Conceptual Drawing /39-52 6. Gabriel Welsch Poetry /53-57 Panhandler (ISSN 0738-8705) is published by the University of West Florida’s Department of English and Foreign Languages. For submission guidelines, please visit: www.uwf.edu/panhandler. Editor: Jonathan Fink Art Editor: Valerie George Managing Editors: Brooke Hardy, Doug Moon
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Taije Silverman was the 2005-2007 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Emory University. She holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Vassar, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland. Her poems have been published in journals including Ploughshares, Poetry, Five Points, The Antioch Review, Pleiades, and Prairie Schooner. She has won several first place awards from the Academy of American Poets, and merited fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her first book is Houses are Fields (LSU, 2009). She grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia and currently teaches in Philadelphia.
Brooke Hardy is a graduate student at the University of West Florida where she is an editor of Panhandler and teaches English composition. She is also the president of the UWF chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.
Doug Moon is a graduate student at the University of West Florida where he is an editor of Panhandler and teaches English composition. His thesis, a cycle of short stories, is forever forthcoming.
Brooke Hardy: I always like to begin with a basic question. Can you remember your first exposure to poetry? Taije Silverman: I wrote my first poem before I could write. I dictated it to my mother. I don’t know, at the age of three perhaps. I don’t remember writing it, but she remembers it. She told me that I explained that it was in the voice of an old woman. I think the whole poem was something like, through this woman’s voice, as I explained it to her, “Oh God, when I not see you, I cry. Do you love me?” So that was the first poem I ever wrote. Missing a little part, a verb. And then later, I don’t know which came first, there was a poem in sixth grade, Mrs. Hutchenson’s English class, that I read, that I fell in love with, by a woman named Evelyn Tooley Hunt. It was one of those poems in the poetry section of your English textbook. I copied it out in pencil in my notebook paper, and then I recopied it in colored pencil in my new cursive,
and I taped it up to my wall, next to my window. I remember it there. I don’t remember the poem very well now: “My mother taught me beauty, / and for its lack she died. / No… my mother taught me duty, / and for its lack she died. / Who knew so much of beauty, / she could not teach me pride.” I don’t even know what it meant. I still don’t know what it means. Something about the music got me. I have no idea why I loved it so much, but I worshipped that poem. And then, I always loved poetry. There was a poem… Did you ever see The Outsiders—this trashy movie that everyone saw in my generation when we were about ten or eleven? It was a book as well. Do you remember Ponyboy? I forget the name of the actor who plays Ponyboy. He starts reciting this poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Do you remember that poem? That one is still in my head. That was another one, and when I think about it now, I have no idea why I loved those poems so much. Something about
their music. They were my personal talismans, my incantations, my little mantras that I could carry around.
Doug Moon: That seems like a very experiential, personal approach. Recently, I was reading a book by Zizek about film and he talks about how he thinks poetry should work and says that a poem’s message “is not the meaning expressed in the metaphoric poetic language, but resides in the very poetic displacement of this meaning.” In other words, the work of poetry is actually the work that the poetry does. What I was wondering is not whether or not you want to confirm that, but do you feel that reading criticism, approaching poetry with a manifesto or philosophy is important or something you do? TS: I think you might have asked me two different questions, or at least I heard two different questions. For me, criticism isn’t a necessary part to reading poetry. In fact, they are way too often antithetical to each
other. In terms of manifestos, I love that word, and I don’t know if you all know a very short essay by Frank O’Hara called, “Personism: a Manifesto”? It’s hilarious, and it makes fun of the idea of a manifesto. With that as our base (that mentioning the word “manifesto” should always be in jest) yes, I do think that we should have manifestos when we come to poetry and that they should vary, and even contradict each oth-
This is why we write poetry. This is why we read poetry. To have fifteen different students from fifteen different backgrounds in fifteen profoundly different moods sitting in a classroom with me saying the word “loisfaribari” in different emphases over and over again until we’re just repeating “love is for everybody” in our happiest and most certain collective voice. But that manifesto—it comes at me from every angle, like
“I do think that we should have manifestos when we come to poetry and that they should vary, and even contradict each other.” er. I find myself at least needing to remember why I read it and why I write it. I don’t know. Yesterday in my introductory poetry class, or the day before actually, we were preparing for a poet that was going to come to visit to a college where I teach and one poem that she wrote is about a card she got from a third grader which just said on it “loisfaribari.” The whole poem is her going through, trying to figure out what “loisfaribari” means, and saying it in all different contexts: Should we take the expressway or would it be faster on the loisfaribari? God, I’d just love to go to the beach and just drink a tall glass of loisfaribari right now. So as she goes through she starts pronouncing each syllable very carefully, and then with a Spanish accent. She has some Spanish heritage, this poet, and then you come to understand that the word is actually, “love is for everybody.” And one of my students in my class asked if we could all read it as a group, and so we all read it as a group, pronouncing the whole thing over and over again with different emphasis in the way that she had. That moment was certainly my winter’s, if not my year’s, manifesto.
surprises, like secrets. BH: Your first poem in your book, “Listen, No One, They’re Sleeping,” seems to convey a sense of urgency that I find interesting for the opening of the book, because as it progresses the poems seem to calm down, the tone changes. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the concept of pacing in poetry. In a collection like yours, do you think that pacing is an important element to consider when arranging your work? Is this something you even consider? TS: Absolutely, I think it’s a wonderful question, both in terms of an individual poem and especially in terms of a book. I’m also really glad that you felt that way about this collection, that it does calm down. In fact, the earlier poems that I wrote are in the later section of the book, and I did want to plunge the reader into the action directly, head first, and then pat their hair a bit as they were in the thick of it. So I guess that’s part of what I was thinking in terms of pacing my own book, and in a more broad sense, I think that pacing is an essential aspect of and question for poetry in that every
poem, in some fundamental way, questions the relationship between the lyric and the narrative, by which I mean, more or less, the notion that there is progression, that time goes in a linear manner, that you start somewhere and finish somewhere else. And this might go back to your quote from Zizek, about metaphor as something intact, that message can’t be culled from it necessarily. You probably, studying and writing poetry, have some experience of how you can read something in a linear fashion and yet still feel that it circles itself, it ends where it began, and when you look for the staircase going from the beginning to the end, you find yourself in a rotunda, in a circular hallway, circular courtyard. So I think that pacing engages with that question and shifts according to how much investment you have in narrative and how much in lyric. It’s a vague answer I’m giving you because I actually think it’s a very vague and deeply complex question, but I love the question. BH: I really enjoy the narrative style to your poetry, particularly in the poem, “Syros 1989.” I think this arises from the strong, specific persona that runs through the poetry. Do you agree that your poems involve the same persona in this collection? TS: No, no. I feel as though many different people wrote many different poems. And that’s as far as I can get to committing to the notion of persona for myself, that there are many different voices and truths and versions of self inside of me. The only reason I’m being coy about the word is because, well, Brooke, you know as an actress that there’s something assumed false about persona, put on, and I find when I approach poems with that attitude, I get nowhere, in terms of what I feel or think. BH: For me, at least, personally, the
idea of persona seems to be an afterthought to try to remove the author from the poem itself. TS: That’s absolutely true. BH: So with persona we go in afterwards and say, “What is the persona saying in this poem?” In my personal view, poetry comes from different voices, but it all comes from this same person and afterwards you cull this idea from it. TS: And you probably find later, as you’re looking back over them, that there’s a cohesion which you hadn’t necessarily suspected, and in that sense they all belong to the same persona, but you don’t see it because you’re inside of it, in the way that Doug is always going to see Brooke, every time he looks at you he’s always going to see the same person, and every time you look in the mirror, you’re going to see something bizarrely different. You can kind of become Doug after three years of letting the poems sit, and then looking at them and seeing, oh, the same person wrote them. DM: It seems what you’re suggesting is it would be impossible to write such a long collection without different voices and moods and attitudes creeping in there that would subvert a consistent persona, right? TS: For me, for me, yeah, but I certainly know poets who feel the opposite. DM: This collection is substantially different from a collection of extended persona poems. TS: Yes, in my opinion. Yes. BH: The imagery in your letters poems is very striking. How do you see these poems working within the larger collection?
TS: Love and death. Love and death. Love and death. Love and death. That’s what we’re stuck with, right? Those poems are love. Those poems are sex. Those poems are lust. They are my own manifestation of the self trying to hold onto the body, losing my mother, losing the person who was most important to me and most enormous. The person who actually encompassed the universe, and at the same time, having this lover with his small, single body who hadn’t brought me into the world, who hadn’t raised me, who’d come and would go. I could see it, my separation from him, and I could just take that body and say, “stay, stay, stay.” So I think those letter poems are my attempt in my life and in the book to intersperse that begging, desperate “stay” with the inevitable dissolution that comes from death. And I hope that they do or can provide some respite for the reader in the way that they did for me in my life. There’s only so much death we can deal with before we just want to go out and kiss someone. BH: I think they function that way in reading the collection. I found these most interesting because they were fairly different from the other poems stylistically and in their content, clearly. TS: I actually wrote them, it might be interesting to know, I wrote them literally in bed, next to my lover. I didn’t speak them to him. I never read those poems to him. I just wrote him letters next to him, telling him what was happening inside of me. I never showed them to him. Telling him what we had just done. We had just gotten into this huge fistfight essentially, and now I’m going to tell you about it. So going back to narrative and lyric, that was my insistence on narrative in the midst of this lyric chaos.
DM: When you write a poem that seems to arise from a certain moment or setting, like your lover’s sleeping in bed— TS: He wasn’t sleeping, he was wondering what I was writing. Sometimes he was writing on my back while I was writing my poems. DM: Do you ever feel it’s hard to go back to those poems, like in a revision? Does it feel like you’ve lost momentum or initial aim out of that setting? TS: Well, it’s tricky business, isn’t it, which I’m sure you’ve all experienced in your own revisions as well, that you can’t wait too long or the thread’s gone, the momentum’s, poof, disappeared. I give myself a couple weeks of being in that space because we’re slow, we’re caterpillars. Our psyches lag behind our experience, so in a way I can get in a fight with my lover in a hotel and then need to tell it afterward as if I’m only understanding that it’s happening later, even days later, still being in the experience. You have a fight with a friend and you’re stuck there a week after, still having a fight. So in that lag time, in the psyche’s afterimage, so to speak, I can work within revisions, but if I tried to revise one of those poems now, it would be like Jon revising that poem. It’s done. It happened to some other reflection in the mirror. BH: I always like to ask poets what their revision process is. As a young writer, I always find it interesting how each time I do a revision the poem changes based on how I go about that process. What’s your revision process? TS: One thing that I can tell you that might be useful is corkboard. Get some corkboard and put it up on your wall, and really, if you can fill a whole wall with it, get your
drafts and pushpin them up. You will find yourself walking by to the bathroom, on the way to breakfast, I’ll just stop and read those couple lines out loud. You’ll find you come up with—you engage in it much more often, much more dynamically, and without any of the pressure of sitting down at the desk—now I’m going to make this poem better because I have to. Which for me, induces panic sometimes. But if it’s just there on the corkboard—I’m going to try on this green sweater, and then, you know what, that verb’s wrong. I’ll try this one. I’d recommend that. In my own experience in revision, in the middle of the night I’ll often come up with lines. In yoga class I often come up with lines. In conversations with other people I’ll often come up with lines. Sometimes driving, which doesn’t make me the safest driver, because I always need to write them down, I need to get out of bed and write the line down whenever I come up with it. This morning, I didn’t. Right around dawn, I was working on a poem, a revision of a poem yesterday, and I’ve got the sun doing some stuff at the end of the poem that is a little too personified; it’s a little too cute. The sun is just not a person. And this morning I realized what the sun really was and what my narrator’s relationship with the sun was. Now? Gone. Didn’t write it down. Who knows what I was thinking, or if it was any good. BH: All of your poems seem to take up the notion of time. Is that something you considered thematically for this collection? TS: Absolutely, in fact, I structured it into four sections for the four seasons of the year and for the four members of my family. You wouldn’t have known it. We’ve got Winterless, but that’s the only section that gives you a clue that these are seasons. I also wrote many of those po-
ems to the future. Literally, as if the future were a creature and I were writing to the future. Sometimes, the future’s name is No One. Listen, No One, They’re Sleeping. But it’s always the future because I didn’t believe the future was coming, that there could be a time in which my mom didn’t exist. It was a myth. So I wrote to myth. That was my central concern, that myth. And now I’m just thinking of something that I read in the New York Times, by, I think, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer. You know his work? He’s very clever, and he’s fun too. You might like him. I don’t know. His first book is Everything Is Illuminated and his second book is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He’s a very New York, intellectual, young, hip, funny writer. I remember reading in the New York Times an interview with him that said, “They say that time heals all wounds, but maybe time is the wound.” I believed that. When my mom was sick, I believed that. It was my problem. It was my foe, what I had to go up against. And I wrote into it, and I wrote toward it, and I wrote against it, and I thought about it constantly. I was reading an autobiography of Sarte, and in that autobiography, Sarte wrote, “Dying is not enough, one must die in time.” What’s the difference between dying and dying in time? You get a moment to die? The way I get a moment to say the word “moment”? How strange. Dying is a pebble in the water, and then there’s something else? Before that there was something else? What a concept. That an ending is part of a narrative, that an ending is part of a lyric circle? Am I making sense? Probably not. DM: Along the same lines and as you’ve already said, the collection seems very concerned with family. When reading the collection, even though there seemed to be poems that I didn’t think initially would be
about family, there seemed to be a return to that and an insistence to that. It wasn’t necessarily nostalgic and since you said it is addressing the future, it seemed as though it was once foundational, but also a lens or a tool to work through some of these things. I was hoping you could say more about the role and how foundational the idea of family was in writing this collection. TS: As foundational as the earth is to us. I couldn’t overemphasize it. And I’m struck now in my writing by the same thing that you’re pointing out. In that poems that are not about family seem to be about family, quietly, sneakily. And to that discovery, I guess I would point to the fact of family as provenance. The fact of family as the answer to the question where are you from—to have an answer to that question. A million different answers for each of us. But how fundamental that question is to being in the world, to having a source, to knowing where you come from. And the tension between that and not knowing, the tension between having a place, having a home, having these people who recognize you, who have your face. My mother and I have very similar faces. If you look at your parents you see yourself in them, they can see themselves in you, there’s something deeply, psychologically reassuring about that. In a way that—yeah, in the book, it’s literal and almost everywhere, but I’m starting to think that it’s going to continue to surface in my work figuratively for a good long time, if not forever, and that might be true for all of us. BH: In your poems like “Fugue” and “Little by Little,” you seem to play with the spatial arrangement of the lines on the page. How do you feel these spatial relationships between words on the page affect the way your poetry is received?
TS: I did choose tonight not to read any of the “Little by Little” poems because in a way, they’re hard to read. It’s hard to get that sense, that sound of fragmentation in conversation. How they’re received, you’d be the better person to answer than I am. I don’t know. I’ve had some pleasant response, but I don’t know that they make that much sense. There are a bunch of voices coming into those poems, and then there’s a chainsaw chopping them up. And they scatter over the yard. And “Fugue” as well has gotten a really positive response. But that’s much less fragmented. In terms of how they’re received, well, I don’t know. You tell me. BH: I guess, perhaps, I am wondering how you think the way lines are arranged on the page gives poetry a sense of motion. TS: I guess I worried that they would alienate the reader, and I also wondered—I wrote them because I couldn’t write anything else, I didn’t write them thinking, “I’d like to alienate the reader now. I’m going to write some poems that fragment.” But once they were written, I wondered, “Ugh, am I becoming a language poet? Am I becoming one of those people that tries to be obscure? What’s happening here?” So I both worry about that alienation and—do I hope for it? I don’t hope for it, but in a way, I might judge it a necessary aspect of the book as a whole, in that there are those moments when you can follow a narrative, and there are those moments when your mother is losing the ability to speak and you cannot tell the story to yourself. You cannot. You don’t have words for what you’re feeling. You’re having the experience of something without the imaginative capacity to literally grasp it. Just as those poems manifested that for me, I’d certainly understand if they manifested that
for my reader, and I would not discourage it. But of course, I want you to feel everything I feel, to think everything I think, and know where each one of those voices came from. I want you to see my mom on the back deck saying those fragment bits of words, and hear the birdsongs as I did. And I don’t know how to do that. DM: Voice and dialogue at times seem like italicized interruptions, temporally and spatially outside of what would be the narrative of the poem and then switch gears. Did you want to say more about that? TS: I’m sure there are plenty of things I’d like to say about that. It is a frequent theme in my poetry, and I very consciously, almost always, didn’t italicize my own voice in poems. Nor did I italicize my therapist’s voice because what I was hoping to experience from her was a kind of reflection of myself in the same voice. My mother’s voice was always italicized, and my lover’s voice was always italicized. To be honest, this is going to sound so cheap, but I’m just going to confess it to you all. I have a great family,
poems that my mom wrote in this book, and that my dad wrote, and I just kind of gave the filler. I shouldn’t admit it, but… walking through, you realize that this shouldn’t be lost. BH: When asked about his creative process, C. Dale Young mentioned that he always begins with what becomes the last line of his poems. Where do your poems begin? What would you say are your triggers? TS: They certainly vary. I read this interview with C. Dale Young, that you all did, which was really fantastic. I loved it. They were really good questions. I thought, I’m going to be in good hands. Right, just the other day, as I was revising a poem and realizing that actually, the last line of the poem is the most important one to me. I don’t know if it’s the first one that came, but it’s one of the first. I guess I find the last line about three quarters of the way into the poem, usually. Then I have to write my way toward it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first line that I wrote. I was mystified and amazed about that fact when I read it about C. Dale Young. Triggers, they vary. Most recently, I spent my spring
“I never read those poems to him. I just wrote him letters next to him, telling him what was happening inside of me.” and most of the time I’m more interested in what they’re saying than what I’m saying. My father just dropped nonsense, and fabulous nonsense: “Look, your mother is making everyone into dwarves. She’s making me shrink right now!” I didn’t want to let that go. I wanted to write that down. There are poems in this book that if they work at all, they only work because of what someone else said. So I stole them. I just used their dialogue and put it into my poem. There are certain
break visiting my sweetheart in Rome, but I had jetlag. So I would wake up at around 4 in the morning unable to sleep and in a panic. What am I doing here? Why am I dating someone in Rome? What’s happening with my life? Who am I? You know those thoughts that happen before dawn? So I went to the window, and really it was only that trigger, and I would call that trigger the choice between waking him up and breaking up with him and going to stay in a hotel I couldn’t afford—
or writing. That was the trigger, right? So I just wrote about what I saw through the window— the guys in big rubber pants pulling fish off the truck and putting them in the market. Then he, my sweetheart, found his way into the poem. Then our conversation found its way in. Then loneliness found its way in. The trigger was some daily version of desperation, which it often is. I have a wonderful group of friends right now and we give each other triggers. My friend Constance sent me this Wikipedia site for a part of the body called the philtrum, which is this part right here, this groove in the upper lip. She sent me the link, and then she said, “Write a poem about it.” I wanted to, and I said I would. Of course, three weeks went by and I didn’t. Then she sent me an e-mail and said, I’m waiting for the philtrum poem. Then I felt like such a tool if I couldn’t write a simple poem about the philtrum, you know? So that became the trigger, and I did write a poem about it. I think I’ll read it tonight, just to test it out on you guys. Another friend said, “Write a poem about your first kiss,” which became a poem about every kiss I’ve ever had. Sometimes I’ll do assignments that I give to my students. Sometimes I’ll read a poem in a book and I’ll want to write my own version of it. Sometimes I’ll hear—feel a poem, I’ll live a poem. I’ll take the taxi home from the airport and realize I’m in the middle of a poem, and what the taxi driver is saying is part of the poem. I just want to get it down before—you know, I literally brought with me to Florida notes from that experience written on baggage claim tags because they were in my bag and I didn’t have any other paper. So while he was talking and I was experiencing the poem, I was writing it. And baggage claim tags glow in the dark. I just found that out last night. I don’t know why.
DM: So your poem actually glows in the dark. TS: Yes. Yes. Finally! DM: Do those poems seem different to you when they come from some kind of prompt as opposed to one that arises from a moment or experience? Looking at them at the end after revision, is there any difference in the two? TS: Great question. I don’t know yet. The prompts are new to me. I think there is a difference. I think—no, no. I think it depends on the poem. Some of the prompts—there’s this poem about the first kiss, that is also the next kiss, and it’s also the last kiss. I won’t say it’s silly, but it’s light. It doesn’t feel forced, it just feels light, whereas the poem on the baggage claim tags doesn’t. It’s a little too new for me to know. I suspect you might be onto something. I also fear you might be onto something, and I don’t know. DM: Lastly, I’m seeing a lot of narratives about the various media— print, journalism, TV— and its all starting to feel cataclysmic to me, where its reaching some sort of terminus where everyone is starting to publish more on the Web. Since you were talking earlier about writing poetry and how it can become this very visceral, tangible process where you’re writing on glow-in-thedark baggage tags and walking by a corkboard, I was wondering what you think about the future of publishing, writing, and reading poetry when we’re moving more toward non-traditional print and electronic media? TS: You couldn’t be asking a more wrong person that question. I shouldn’t have born in the last century. I should have been born centuries and centuries ago. I belong in those images of Victorian
womanhood over there. That I have a computer, that I use Facebook, that I use e-mail. This cell phone. . . None of it makes sense to me. I actually worked in book publishing after I graduated from undergraduate for a couple years and I used to go into stock rooms and just smell the books. God, I loved them. I used to put my faces up against the pages. I love books. I love the weight of them, the smell of them, the look of them. Their covers, their care. I want to eat them. I dream about eating them sometimes. I saw someone with a Kindle. I don’t know. To me it’s like I want to read something on a Kindle as much as I want to eat Spam. You know that stuff? It hurts my soul, Kindles do. But I’m sure I probably felt that way about e-mail, cell phones, and all sorts of aspects of what are now our ways of communicating, a few years ago. I’m sure I’ll get used to Kindles. I don’t want to. I didn’t want a cell phone. I don’t like it. I know it’s useful. I know it’s convenient, but as I said before, my psyche is slow. All of our psyches are slow. We’re going way too fast for ourselves. I mean, at this point, I’m so far behind myself that I can’t measure the distance anymore. So I guess I’ll move into that world of digital publishing in that same collective amnesia that comes when you can’t measure the distance, but I’m a sort of weird grandmother about it.
In this poem there will be no dreaming of spiders. In this poem there will be no light snow. It wasn’t winter, winter had been cut to shreds and fed to wolves, they had devoured winter. There will be no back yards, nothing will be kept by fence in this poem, there will be no windows to see the light snow in the back yard, sudden, without question although there would never be winter again. Do you hear me? Never. In this poem no small hands no cold hands. Don’t ask me. My hands are not cold your hands are not small. There will be no green cowboy boots in this poem. You never walked beside me you never smiled no. There won’t be poetry you won’t read to me. There won’t be beautiful in this poem. It was taken on the train with winter. Yes, on the train. Though there are no trains in this poem and no girls. No cowboy boots, no rolling windows, the tenements won’t flash blood color through the long afternoons behind laundry the trees won’t shake the fields will not shine and wait in this poem, no girls. There will be no letters. The mailbox is being held without ransom, the white door hangs open all day on the loose street where winter will never arrive. Your handwriting will never arrive, not my name made real by it, no. There won’t be a kiss. No reeds in the marshland and was it cold, I don’t remember. We won’t walk back. There will be no lemon tea, steeped too long, we pour it down the sink, the cold tea is dark and strong, my body is being held without ransom. No not in this poem. There will be no Nina Simone, songs will not enter songs will not break. No bedrooms, no postcards on the walls no tulip petals dropping. There will be no waiting in this poem. There will not be waiting. Winter is lost forever here, the kidnapped mailbox long forgotten. The train is an idea, like the moon. My heart, searching the street those hours for your tan car, is a fingernail. Is a hard, shiny, small thing.
-Taije Silverman, from Houses Are Fields
Born in Seoul, Korea, Youngsuk Suh moved to the United States in 1994 to study photography. He received his BFA at Pratt Institute and his MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He had solo exhibitions with Clifford Smith Gallery, Boston, Jane Deering Gallery, Gloucester and Gallery ON, Seoul, Korea. In 2008 he was invited to Seoul International Photography Festival. His photographs are collected in Santa Barbara Museum of Arts, Iron Museum in Korea, Fidelity Investment Collection, and Wellington Management Collection. He has been Assistant Professor of Photography at University of California, Davis since 2006. He is currently working on the second part of the “Wildfires” project on prescribed fires in public lands.
Youngsuk Suh writes: The “Wildfire” series was initially started by my need to revisit and reevaluate some of the subjects explored in my earlier “Instant Traveler” project. The common thread running through the two projects is my perception of nature as a highly engineered and civilized institution. Through the images in the “Instant Traveler” series I intended to contemplate on the failure of the familiar nature-culture dichotomy. The human struggle to tame the ‘untamable’ has historically been rendered as a heroic victory of our civilization and brought us the concept of management in our relationship with natural environments. What used to be wilderness became remote memories petrified in national parks, the primary subject of the “Instant Traveler” series.
Wildfire and fire management are another aspect of the same interest. Despite the media saturated rendering of wildfire as a destructive force and firefighters as heroic individuals protecting our civilization, the modern firefighting has become a highly complex web of activities involving numerous government and private organizations. My interest, however, is in the position of individuals, often found in the fringe of this colossal system of ‘naturemanagement’. No matter how marginalized it seems, the desire of the individual subject is the primary focus of the new series. It is the ‘anxious desire’ that drives us to nature, in which the desire to be ‘in nature’ is continuously prolonged of its fulfillment. Individual encounter of nature is often accompanied by illusoriness that perpetually defers the concrete experience. The smoke in many of the photographs mediates this very anxiety. It is the shapeless nature that we encounter in the thick smoke of our own anxiety. I am attracted and feared simultaneously by this airborne beauty.
The luminous tones and colors of the photographs are used ironically. Modeled after the 19th century American painters such as Bierstadt and Gifford, the picturesque sunset is enhanced by the haze of the smoke from a nearby fire. Like honeybees that are numbed by smoke before harvesting of honey, fire burns through the history of the representation of nature and tranquilize our senses. The romantic tradition also tells me that nature is as much an invention of the modernity as history. The mundaneness that I depict in many images in this series also denotes a characteristic aspect of the modern fire management and disaster management at large. It is the result of a sophisticated social engineering that is aimed at total control of public psyche, which is achieved by careful control of the visibility of any disastrous events. Individuals are often ‘protected’ from the direct contact and left with mediated images seen on TV and newspapers. One’s own sense of threat is replaced by the color-coded ratings determined by the authority. Once this process is established, the wildfires are no longer a threat in a real sense. The thick smoke seems to transform the real event into a remote memory.
Bathing I, 2009 36x47â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Waterskiing, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Bathers and a Dog, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Bathers I, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Bathing II, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Rafting, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Firefighters, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Sunset I, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Fire from a Distance I, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Squirrel, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Conversation, 2009 36x47â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Cycling, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Smoking, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Coffee, 2009 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
Gas Station, 2008 36x46â€?, Archival Pigment Print on Rag Paper
poetry in translation
Nader Naderpour (June 6, 1929 – February 18, 2000): Born in Tehran and receiving his early education in Europe, Nader Naderpour returned to Iran to publish his first collection of poetry in the 1940s. In the later 1960’s, he helped found “The Association of Writers of Iran” and directed the literature department of the Iranian National Radio and Television Department. He left Iran after the revolution in 1980, living in France until the late 1980’s, when he moved to the United States. Regarded as one of the leaders of the movement of “New Poetry” in Iran, he published nine collections of poems. Naderpour was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and was awarded the Human Rights Watch HellmanHammett Grant in 1993.
Roger Sedarat is a poet and translator. His collection of poetry, Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic won Ohio UP’s Hollis Summers Prize. Another poetry collection, Ghazal Games (Ohio UP), is forthcoming. He teaches poetry and translation in the MFA program at Queens College, City University of New York
Rouhollah Zarei received his PhD from University of Essex with a specialty in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. He lectures in the English Department at Yasouj University, Iran.
Roger Sedarat (right) and Rouhollah Zarei (left) met on a panel at a translation conference in Stirling, Scotland, in 2009. Both were presenting papers on Hafez, the great classical Persian poet. After discovering each other’s mutual admiration for Persian and American literature, they decided to collaborate on a modern Persian poet, opting for Nader Naderpour in part because of his stronger, later work. The two regularly correspond by email, sending notes along with corrected drafts.
vides us with fresh ways of looking at the poems as we draft and redraft new versions for each other.”
Roger Sedarat on translation: Though I have benefited as a poet from the workshop setting for over a decade of serious writing, I’ve rarely had a chance to improve as a translator in any kind of community. I think many translators would say the same about the isolating nature of the work. While I’m able to offer students in the MFA program at Queens College both translation workshops and craft classes, I typically serve much more as facilitator than as participant. Rouhollah, through our email exchanges, provides me an opportunity to daily hone my skills as a translator. As we question every verb and adjective, writing and rewriting each other’s drafts, I feel like my own craft greatly improves. I’m also motivated, because someone else depends on my input, to adhere to deadlines.
Rouhollah Zarei on translation: “As a teacher of English literature in Iran who has conducted literary translation courses, I have had hard times with my Iranian students translating from Persian into English. They usually fail to transfer not only the connotations of words but also the overall mood or the spirit of poems. This is often the case with famous Persian poets already translated even by native speakers of English. Translating new poems with Roger has been a unique experience. Our process betters insures both accuracy along with the literary spirit of the original. I am fairly familiar with Persian and English literature and Roger has the double advantage of being an Iranian-American poet writing in English as well. Our back and forth email process proNader Naderpour
Rouhollah Zarei on choosing Naderpour: “Naderpour is a poet less known in the English speaking world. He is a poet whose romantic sensitivities can evoke forgotten memories in Westerners’ minds. He speaks in a language familiar to us through the universal themes of nature, romance, eroticism, youth, passage of time, old age, and death. Because his poems were written over the course of decades and cover a variety of subjects, it’s hard to pigeonhole him with just one school of poetry or one generation of poets.” 24
Roger Sedarat on choosing Naderpour: “I recall in looking for a modern Persian poet, we wanted writing that would speak beyond one specific culture. There was also something about Naderpour’s ability to get so close to nature for me, a somewhat refreshing return to the romantic in what has become in America such a post-modern, surrealistic time for poetry. As far as modern Persian poets go, Naderpour proved a some-
what easy choice, as he remains relatively unknown in the west and the poetry from his last books (arguably his best), have failed to appear in a complete English translation. The best motivation, however, came from our initial attempts at collaborating. At once I had a sense that we both were able to surrender to this poet’s voice, allowing him to speak through us, both in Persian and English.”
Apostrophe - for Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mostafavi You fluent green! You impossible simplicity! You sacred script written on the silk night! You Holy Verse inscribed on the dawn! You hymn acclaiming the four seasons! You open book of heaven’s epithets! You whose wave of Persian letters makes every dot a bird! You whose every drop becomes a sign in the message from a cloud. You whose sorrowful absence and eventful presence become a momentary story on the shore. You eloquent green! You extended opening of a lyric! You profound meaning of an epic! You birthplace of the word “sun”! You rising meter of the moon’s rhyme! You sign of smooth and easeful expression! You sea, a body of metrical waters! You spot for words’ collusion! You dervishes’ dance! You knotting and unknotting of speech! You meaning of breaking meters! You periodic brilliant sentence (between western and eastern crescents)! You joining of jungle with mountain and galaxy! You capsized city with inverted inscriptions full of ups and downs, covered with outlines and sketches of stars! You green suspended heavens! You Sasanid monument in Kermanshah! You verse! You boiling essence with more fluid than the magic sap of life in a tree’s root! Saturate me with the echo of your call! You lion, roaring with your mane blowing in a wind-storm, Pull down my body, quench my soul! Rip and tear my trachea! Pull off my subjugating shackles and smash this agitated rowboat of my being on the sun’s golden rock! (continued, without stanza break) Nader Naderpour
You deep, you high, you dread, you threat, you green, you Caspian Sea!
Glance On the glass, the big broken spider had woven a cobweb. The diamond of your eyes etched a line. In the silence of trees, glass shattered. Now just the moon and your gaze stare into my eyes.
Narrative The black hen brooded on the white egg, telling the embryo beating within, “Look, you eyeball! My womb of lime is not a dark cell; It’s full to the brim with the simplicity of dawn. The sun sleeps in its whiteness, covered better than sleeping eyes.” The night drowned in the simplicity of dawn, the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo reaching as far as the morning’s horizon, but before the yolk of the sun emerged a hand appeared in the dark nest. The white egg separated from the dark hen.
The Last Supper - To Nasser Amiri From the beaches of an unknown night the wind spread the odor of the men’s roasted body on our tablecloth. We toasted our glasses, but within us the bottle of faith had shattered. None of us looked the other in the eye. Our mouthfuls of blood were gulping back tears as we sobbed to ill-timed spasms of laughter. In a night when the kiss smacked of betrayal, we burnt the kind and vigorous face of the friend encircled by a divine halo with a tongue redder than flames; we sold our love for the kiss of hatred. Nader Naderpour
(continued, with stanza break)
With the rough immoral stone, at the enemy’s infernal gallows, we bruised Hallaj who shouted the truth. we transferred power from our saints to Yazid; we, more pious than all the impure, dipped our fingernails into our friend’s blood. We put the high stool of thought like Aristotle’s nine suspending spheres under the lame feet of flattery. We built towers out of skulls. We wrote of our conquests on shrouds. We, the blind-eyed, looking for essential wisdom, slid fingers blinder than hearts on embossed words and lines to read the names of the most crooked raised higher than moles upon idolized beloveds. We built adobe houses on water. We threw stones at mirrors; Like Arabs of old, wandering in the wilderness, we dug graves for honorable girls in the salty waste land of ignorance. We carried our dead on our shoulders; we reaped and sowed grains of tears and sweat in farms of fear and shame; We forced the spirit to serve the body. In the casino of history we lost our legacy of ancient generations, the same way we had already lost our fame. We tasted our captivity in time as if from a bottle. No sign of dawn in the sky. The deep wound of the sun’s dagger, like an old keepsake from the distant past, burnt our cold hearts. The plant of our salvation decayed with incessant rain. We picked up crumbs from the earth’s table. We dipped pieces of our friend’s body in bowls of blood; In the black Iscariotic night we were guests at the Last Supper. One of the early sufi mystics executed for heretical claims that he himself manifested divine truth. The second caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate responsible for the tragic massacre of Karbala.
The Capsized Sun Like a woman closing windows one by one and turning off the light, night extinguished the stars and went to bed. The red in the white sky of dawn painted crimson flowers on the milk white waterfall. Some wind expounded upon the green book of trees. Then fire flourished in the silky grass. Not a real fire on the green sea but a boat. The capsizing sun swung its truth like a red lamp through the darkness.
Poem as Wine Flagon You are like a wine flagon: the crystal spiral, thanks to the glass blower, runs down on the delicate frame like the curl of hair. You are like a wine flagon: in the glitter of morning from the slope of the chest to the narrow neck, full of fervid inebriation and light consciousness. My poem, you are like a wine flagon. How can I ignore your fragility? How can I, at times, not consider breaking you? If you break you will spill my thirst. An associate of mirrors, you know the language of flowers; Your momentary rise between light and the world is blissful. You are the sun in the horizons of springs and grass. Your lips: the mouth of the rose at dawn. A breeze of a word will open them; You are the best word on the tongue of the flower, the wind. Tall crystal, turn me into wine and pour it in your throat. Let me into your transparent chest. Grant me the heat of a greenhouse in winter. Drink me all over, or grant the last drop to the drunk. Nader Naderpour
(continued, without stanza break)
You are like a wine flagon; you break before long.
Not Plant or Stone, but Fire - for Parviz Soltani I am born from the pure seed of the sun in the dry lonely desert, my splendor rooted in salty soil. I am born from the inertia of stone, the effort of wind, the speed of fire, and the patience of water. Under the evening’s golden dome, I stretch my arms toward the sky; In the desert’s glorious night I am the last walking passenger. The root of me, this old tree, the desert’s wise elder, remains full with the free essence of living, half-living, and dead plants. The root of me, this old tree, this valiant recluse remains full with the youth of sprouts, fresh songs, rivers’ sediments, and the transparency of sky. My fresh fruits: small birds; My dew drops: bright stars; These birds of day, these stars of night having emerged from the opening of my broad chest heralded love, newer songs, more pleasant intimations. The wind like a mother plucking a few grey hairs from her daughter’s head has shaken the yellow from my green leaves. The sky above my branches, softer than a dove’s chest, has spread blue velvet. Harder than a heavy rock through the whirlwind of years, I remain with outstretched arms rooted to the blazing fire, made not of iron, plant, or stone, free of both fame and shame incapable of hesitation. Years have passed and my eyes remain open towards the sky Nader Naderpour
(continued, without stanza break)
with the promise of a great miracle: the return of a man who once passed my way.
Under the Shadow of Two Blue Fingers In the morning light it perched on a flower with multi-colored wings, sinking its head into an imaginary spring reflected in the dew. The antenna motioned at the alien light feeling the weight of the sunbeam on the scale of its two wings. As it pretended to sleep, the wind rocked it to sleep. And in its sleep it saw the flight of a light-speckled shadow around its cradle of petals attempting to fly away. The shadow crumbled. With colorful wings it landed on paper, no longer with the weight of a sunbeam upon its flight. Under the blue shadow of two fingers a pin pierced the head of the butterfly.
Joseph Skibell’s debut novel, A Blessing on the Moon, received the prestigious Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Skibell’s second novel, The English Disease, received the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. Skibell’s third novel, A Curable Romantic, is forthcoming from Algonquin in 2010. In addition, his work has been widely anthologized and his short stories and essays have appeared in Story, Tikkun, The New York Times, Poets & Writers, and other periodicals. A recipient of a Halls Fellowship, a Michener Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Skibell has taught at the University of Wisconsin, the Humber School for Writers, the Taos Summer Writers Conference, and Bar-Ilan University. He joined the English Department/Creative Writing Program at Emory University in 1999, and is currently working on a book of essays about the tales in the Talmud. (Photo credit: Jeffrey Allen)
Brooke Hardy is a graduate student at the University of West Florida where she is an editor of Panhandler and teaches English composition. She is also the president of the UWF chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.
Doug Moon is a graduate student at the University of West Florida where he is an editor of Panhandler and teaches English composition. His thesis, a cycle of short stories, is forever forthcoming.
Doug Moon: We happen to be in the middle of National Novel Writing Month. It is an initiative where they encourage writers just to write a novel. Not write a careful novel, but essentially the goal is to write a 50,000-word novella in a month. We were wondering since you’ve written two novels, what are your thoughts about that? Do you think that is feasible? Joseph Skibell: Every month is National Novel Writing Month in my house. I don’t want to take a political stand on NNWM, but years ago I was training to teach at the UCLA Extension and I had to sit in a class with somebody and observe a teacher. This guy was a very skilled teacher and he went around the room the first day and said to people “Why are you here?” and one man said “I want to learn to write faster” and the teacher said,
“I think from this class you’ll learn that maybe it’s better to write more slowly.” I mean, I think that it would be nice if you could hurry, and that kind of rushing can sort of get you over a hurdle of your inhibitions, but — as Jon and I were talking earlier about guitar-building — would you really want your guitar builder to build your guitar in a month or take the time and make sure that it’s really an excellent and exquisite instrument. Most people are inhibited about writing and that kind of deadline might help you get over the inhibitions. One of my old professors when I was an undergraduate said, “If you compare the actual text that you generate on a day that you feel is really good with the text you generate on a day that’s really bad, there won’t be that much difference between them.” So you’re always writing more or less at the same level, so why not hurry? But
you want to listen to the story that your novel is telling you so that you don’t just fall into clichés. Or even after you’ve written for a while, you don’t want to keep doing the same familiar moves. You want to be quiet enough and slow enough so that maybe you can surprise yourself. I think National Novel Year might be better and it would be fast to write a novel in a year, anyway. DM: I think that one of the ideas of it is that you find time to write everyday, regardless of your fulltime job, regardless of your kids. JS: I think that’s probably true. DM: I wonder then how often do you find yourself writing on a daily basis? JS: Well, when I’m working on something I always work on a dai-
ly basis, and I always find that it’s better working in the same place, at the same hour. All that helps in a way because you can get more quickly back to the moment that matters. If you’re going to different coffee shops everyday, you have to get used to that. I think that it is important to write everyday. But it is just one of the important things. Quality counts, too.
and you think, “Is this dark enough? Would this make a garment? No, I’ll put it back.” Eventually you start. One of the things I learned from telling stories to my daughter is that almost any image has a story in it, you just have to keep spinning it out logically. So, the real question is, does the image that you start with have enough gravitas for a novel. Then as you write more and more, you start thinking, “Do the themes
“One of the things I learned from telling stories to my daughter is that almost any image has a story in it. You just have to keep spinning it out logically.” Brooke Hardy: How do you begin the process of writing a novel? Do you begin with a short story? Doug and I both noticed in The English Disease that some of the chapters seem like they could be self-contained. JS: They probably should have been. Actually, I always felt that that book didn’t know whether it wanted to be a novel or a collection of short stories and I think it would have been better if it were a collection of short stories. It’s a collection of short stories masquerading as a novel. In any case, I’m always looking for situations. I’m always looking for that little germ that tells you, “There could be a bigger story about this.” I’m always looking for a character in a situation, which may just come from thinking more like a playwright than a novelist. And then you get this image or find this little kernel. Now, when I read non-fiction books, I’m always wondering if there’s a story there. Like you tap this piece of wood. Would this be good? There’s music in this wood. And then you just sort of think about it for a while and let it sit in the dye and then you take it out of the dye
that image has in it mean anything to me now?” Once you understand these narrative laws you can say, “A man walks into an auto repair shop with a crutch.” Now you can tell that story if you’re just faithful to the image and the scenes. Who’s he going to meet next? So eventually you have to say, “Well, it may take me longer than a month to write this novel, so is this important enough for me to really spend a year and a half, two years, five years on? Are these themes inherent in this image something that really matters to me?” I’ve done it telling stories to children. You can make a story out of anything and for a half-hour that’s ok, but for the long haul you want to make sure its something that actually matters to you. DM: I wonder, since you mentioned earlier that you think that The English Disease might be better as a collection of short stories, did it begin as a collection or did it begin with one short story? JS: Well, it began as one short story and I had finished my first novel and I really didn’t know what to do after that. I actually began a book which,
in a transformed state, became my third novel, but I was obviously not ready to write that yet. I was new to having them published, I was new to writing prose because before A Blessing on the Moon, I was always writing drama. My editor said, “You know, you have to follow it up with a novel.” I had that first short story and I thought, “How do you turn this into a novel?” It wouldn’t turn into a novel, so I thought that there were other things that I really wanted to write about Charles and Isabelle. I really just started writing these other pieces. But in terms of readers’ expectations, if it had said instead of novel—because he’s writing about Mahler’s song cycles—maybe a fiction cycle, I think the expectation that it’s not really going to read like a novel would have made it a more pleasurable read for the reader than maybe it was. DM: I thought when I read it that it recalled Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, where the discrete parts build upon each other. As I reader, I never had any expectation for anything else. I didn’t find it jarring or unsettling. JS: I ended up taking off the last line of the first story, which would have finished the story, but I thought, “Well, I can’t put that last line there because it will finish everything.” And that is where he ends up reaching at the end of the whole book. But, I think that that piece would work better with that last line. So, who knows? Maybe like Henry James, I’ll rewrite everything. DM: I know there are so many authors that have the opportunity, like Walt Whitman, to consistently revise and then re-revise. How does that feel when something is published? Do you feel like you have to let that be? Or do you still feel this nagging to revise?
JS: I would just love to do that. It didn’t sell as many copies as the other books. There can only be so many thousands of people who would even notice. On the one hand, if you think about Sam Shepard , he became such a better writer when he slowed down and he was sort of embarrassed by his earlier, dashed-off plays, even though they had a fiery genius to them. Could you really go back and do it without spoiling them—how could you really go back into that mental space? If you still have your notes and your rough drafts and you remember that last line, then you can slip it in and nobody will notice. If I were to do this, there are probably five little changes and I would take out those chapter titles. Then I think I could leave it. But, at this point, I’d much rather do something new than rewrite something old. DM: Writing a first novel, second novel, third novel, do you find it easier each time? Does it become harder? JS: The third novel will come out next year. It’s called A Curable Romantic. The manuscript was a thousand pages and now it’s seven hundred pages. Having written that, I’m not concerned anymore with the question of whether I can generate prose. It took the whammy off of that. In that sense, it has become easier. What becomes harder is—you’re harder on yourself and you can do more technically, so you want to do more organically. You want to really thrill yourself as a writer and thrill the reader because your reach is that much farther. I think that becomes a little harder. You see writers sometimes keep recycling the same thing, so the question is, how can you keep doing something newer, better, with some surprise in it for you and the reader and not get so far outside your thematic comfort zone that you don’t even know what
you’re talking about anymore. BH: Clearly, this book deals with notions of Jewish identity and I was wondering how central that idea of Jewish identity is to your writing. JS: You burn through things with your writing. If you’re having a personal issue, you put it into your work and then suddenly it isn’t your issue anymore. You’ve objectified it so much that you liberate yourself from it or you work though it in such a way that it’s outside of you now. That’s one of the things I’m thinking about in these newer books I’m thinking about doing. The question of Jewish experience and Jewish identity isn’t a burning thematic issue for me anymore. How do you move on and not even let that be a part of your writing anymore? DM: One of the things that I found really interesting is the way in which the protagonist consistently defines Judaism as being almost defined by opposition and these inherent paradoxes. For example, you write, “I’m a Jew after all, a member of a tribe with a long history of measuring its preeminence and centrality to world events, at least in part by the ferocious wish of others to exterminate us.” But then he also defines that belief in God is like having a crazy uncle who is a liability to the institution. I was wondering if you had any more to say about that. JS: I was just reading this book called A Bridge of Longing which is about Yiddish storytelling and I really didn’t get very far before it knocked me out. But on the opening page, there was a quote from a poem by someone named Jacob Glatstein and it’s obviously a post-Holocaust poem and it said, “Who will remember You, who will flee from You, who will deny You, who will run from You across a bridge of longing only to return again” I thought, “You know,
that is such a Jewish concept of the relationship with God.” Now that we’ve been decimated, who’s there to remember you and who’s there to deny you. You would never think that in Christian or Muslim circles, for instance, that “who now will deny you now that we’re so gone.” That’s the Jewish paradox. There is an old Catholic joke that there is no God and Mary is his mother. I think that seems odder in the Catholic world than in the Jewish world. One time I was at a Passover Seder and my uncle and cousin said, “I identify with the wicked son,” and yet they’re there at the Passover Seder. So you’re observing this ritual, but you identify with the wicked son? I think that’s so essentially Jewish in a way. DM: I always find it interesting when authors talk about their relationships to the characters. They talk about them as if the characters are going to do what they want, regardless of what input they have. With Charles, it’s particularly interesting because the near-anagram almost compels me to question what sort of convergence or divergence there is. I was wondering when you were writing, what sort of relationship did you have with that character? JS: I think the near-anagram is also something I wouldn’t do again. The protagonist of the first book is Chaim Skibelski, which actually was my great-grandfather’s name. I thought perhaps one could almost think Charles is a descendent of Skibelski, but they cut off the other “ski.” I think if you ask people who knew me, Charles is a lot gloomier than I really am. It’s like a voodoo doll, in a way. You can put all your negativity and all your gloominess and all your melancholia onto the character. It wasn’t very pleasant writing this book. That’s when I started to realize that I take on these issues of the protagonist a little too much. But I
think he’s a bit more curmudgeonly than I am. Now at least. I may have been more like that then. I don’t know. He was a character type I used to work with a lot, those sorts of alienated, disaffected males. I had written that first short story before I wrote my first novel and then I went back to those characters and this was sort of my thank you to that character for his 25-years of service, if you know what I mean: Here’s your book and we never have to meet up again. In fact, the protagonist of the third book, A Curable Romantic, is this guy named Dr. Y. Y. Sammelsohn and he lives in Freud’s time. I think if you asked a friend of mine, he would tell you that I resemble Sammelsohn much more than I resemble Charles, even though the external situations of Charles’ life are have a greater oneto-one correspondence with my life. But internally, not quite as much. BH: You mentioned that you used the character of Charles and some of your other characters as ways of working though these issues that you were maybe facing personally. I was interested in how Belski changes so dramatically between the beginning and the end. In the beginning, he seems mildly neurotic about things. He’s worried about his wife and if she’s cheating on him. By the end, he seems much more self-assured. There does seem to be a more clear-cut progression in his character. It seems to me that the catalyst for this change seems to come around the time he goes to Poland. That seems to also mark when Belski starts to focus on this idea of Jewish identity, especially when he questions if he still needs to be married to a goy. How would you say the dramatic changes in the protagonist works in the novel? JS: Again, I was learning, in a way. There was a moment in writing these stories in the Polish part where
Charles looks down at Liebowitz, and he has a moment where he feels sorry for Liebowitz and it makes him get off the bus. To me, that was a revelation about character because I thought that Charles’ typical thing would be aversion and avoidance, but because I went 180 degrees away from his normative response, he suddenly became a bigger, more alive character to me. That was the moment when he started being real. I thought, “What a revelation,” because I do teach creative writing. I thought, “What a great little truism.” If you take a character and you go 180 degrees from his typical response, he becomes round. I also think for him, to answer your question on a less technical level, it’s the child. I think the child humanizes him and his worry becomes focused on her in a way that to be worried about her is more understandable than to have this free-floating anxiety and suspicious neuroticism. BH: That leads into my question about Isabelle. She goes through one of the most dramatic changes in the novel. Going from being completely non-religious to practically converting to Judaism overnight. I’m interested to hear about your choices in changing her so dramatically. JS: When I was writing this book, those were things that I was personally thinking about. It was fun to give those things to Isabelle. In that respect, in some ways, she issues mirror some aspects of my own personal experience. Just the idea of thinking, “Oh wow, there’s this whole interesting world of Orthodox Judaism. How much can you embrace?” In that way, she is really much more like me than she is like my wife. To me, again, there’s that knocking on the wood to hear if it will make a good guitar. Where’s the story in this character? What
story can you do? For me, it was to make Charles push her toward Judaism and then let her really embrace it. You see that happening to people and there’s no fervor like a convert’s fervor. So, in some ways, it was just fun. I didn’t think that I could ever see Charles doing that. It seemed part of the book, but he would never have done it, so she had to do it. BH: It seems interesting how in that last portion of the book, he’s very disconnected from the whole process. We see a lot of her going to the different Rabbis, Rabbi Falconer and then the Orthodox Rabbi. It goes from this progression where she’s going to Yoga group that just happens to be at a temple to completely covering herself, then they have to go through that month-long process where they can’t be alone with each other. It was interesting how Belski initiates this conversion and then just sees how far she’ll go. JS: We have friends that this happened to, that had to separate and everything. But, also, I think for Charles there was that little bit of embarrassment that he had married out, so he didn’t want to deal with anything. DM: You’ve been talking about the ways in which both the ritual becomes its own referent, but also the way in which it becomes more. I think that what really interests me about the novel is how Charles and his relationship with people seems like it should be, but at times is not completely inseparable from his identity as being Jewish, his marriage to his wife. It seems like a particularly exigent question right now in the U.S., where we are having discussions about the role of marriage. Charles offers this perspective that, going back to this idea that God is a crazy uncle, if the ritual has
God at its source, that seems like a problematic thing. But then the ritual takes on new significances. It’s important to his relationship with his wife, etc. That seems inherently paradoxical. How do you feel about that? JS: That’s a very fascinating question, actually. It throws me back to my own experience with ritual. Maybe it’s not true for everybody, but for myself, again and again, I’ve had the experience of being sort of cynical and undergoing some kind of ritual and actually coming out the other side changed. I don’t really want to go into all these personal things, but I can count, clearly, at least on one hand, moments where maybe even because I was resistant that the push through was even bigger. In the book, it’s interesting to me that I do have moments like that. Maybe other writers don’t: I was resistant to the ritual, the ritual happened, and it did nothing to me. In the literary world, people are much more comfortable with a fundamental atheism. I think in my books, even though God, as you point out, is problematic, that problematic nature doesn’t allow you to just say, there is no God, and go on your way. I think that’s one thing about my books. The idea of God is certainly alive and functioning and changing and doing things. I think that’s probably because my experience of religious ritual or psychodynamic things is that you go through them and something does happen and you’re aware of certainly a bigger self if not a bigger Self, capital S. DM: On a different subject, one of the things that instantly struck me about the first chapter of the novel was how inherently comic the situation is. Charles clearly doesn’t want to be there, and he seems to be reflecting on all the ways in which the situation does not fit him. It just
seemed anytime he was reflecting it was becoming instantly comic, and his actions take on a comic turn. When you’re writing, how easy is it to write humor, or does that just end up in your work? JS: I think humor’s an insecure person’s way of knowing is the piece is working. “Yeah, it’s funny, so I know it’s working.” In the book I just finished, there are many love scenes, and I became aware that I was always putting a joke in the middle of each one. It makes it more palatable, I thought. If I’m just writing about love and sex, who knows what notes you’re hitting? But if you put a joke in, then you know you’re in control of the material. It’s probably a certain amount of insecurity. The first book, A Blessing on the Moon, really does have some pretty intense scenes, and if there’s a moment where there’s a little bit of humor, I think it only deepens the horror and tragedy. I come from a family that was always filled with jokes and witticisms, everyone trying to top one another. It just makes me feel comfortable. Art is laughter. DM: I have a question as someone
DM: Can you tell us about your forthcoming third novel? JS: It follows a fictitious character, Dr. Sammelsohn. As a child he gets thrown out of a Hassidic family for reading secular books around 1880. He ends up in Vienna and becomes a doctor. When the book starts, he winds up in a friendship with Freud. The first part of the book is a kind of reimagination of the Emma Eckstein scandal. In the second part, he ends up in the early Esperanto movement, and in the third part, he winds up in the Warsaw ghetto. He’s this character who wanders through these historical situations. For the most part, I stay very close to the historical referent, but in other cases, I turn things on their heads imaginatively. It’s a cosmic love story, actually. A love story extending through many lives. It took a long time to write, and a long time to edit. DM: What do you think the book’s relationship to Freud is, because I think he’s a fascinating character to include. JS: In this case, Freud totally func-
“I think in my books, even though God, as you point out, is problematic, that problematic nature doesn’t allow you to just say, there is no God, and go on your way.” who has never been able to write a sex scene I’ve felt comfortable with. Is that the patented way to write one? JS: Right, and there’s that award in England that’s given out for the very worst sex scene every year. So if you put a joke in that sex scene, nobody will think “This is terrible!” They’ll think you’re laughing at it, too.
tions as that materialist, atheistic renunciation of all that Dr. Sammelsohn is trying to leave. Freud wrote an essay about spirit possession. He writes that the spirit possessions of yesteryear are the undiagnosed cases of hysteria today. So he makes this comparison, and in the book, there’s a question about whether Emma Eckstein, who was hysterical, is the dybbuk of one of Dr. Sammelsohn’s earlier wives. So Freud in the book is this guy who is
not prepared for a dybbuk. A dybbuk in Jewish folklore is the soul of a dead person, a sinner, who refuses to submit to divine justice, so instead of going to a heavenly court, the soul wanders. And it’s punished by demons, punitive demons with whips and cudgels. It can hide in three places: it can hide in a stone, in an animal, and in a human being. And it can only hide in a human being if the human being is leaning toward the dark side. There’s an entire literature about dybbuk exorcisms. You have to coax them out with psalms to get them to leave. So, anyhow, that’s Freud in there. Esperanto is this one-world idealism. The Warsaw ghetto is what happened to our sophistication and our one world. It all stopped at the Warsaw ghetto. Sammelsohn is the curable romantic, which is to say, the incurable romantic.
you have to know so much of it, and when you put it in your book, if you ask your wife, she’ll tell you have to take it all out. And you do, because it becomes tedious. It’s a weird process. Now I’m thinking about writing a book about French violin makers, in 1880 again.
DM: It’s coming out next year? JS: It’s coming out autumn of next year. It’s a big canvas. DM: Do find it really helpful to have that kind of bridge to textual history to build off of. JS: When I was younger, I wasn’t a researcher. I didn’t really enjoy history. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to write modern stuff, because you wouldn’t have to do research. It’s mysterious to me now, but I love it for some reason. For instance: I was reading about the Warsaw ghetto and because, when the Jews were finally put in the ghetto, they weren’t going to let non-Jews in and out of the ghetto, they had to have a Jewish postman. It was the first Jewish postman they’d ever had in Warsaw. The residents of the Warsaw ghetto, with gallows humor, said, Oh, a Jewish postman, just like in Palestine! Such a great detail. The problem with history for a novelist is that Joseph Skibell
I spun my coffee cup on its saucer like a top, admitting that although I did not know the great Dr. Herzl, I had called upon him once, inquiring for him at the offices of the Neue Freie Presse, where he worked. “Yes? And? So?” Sora Dvora leaned forward excitedly. “Well.” I shrugged, embarrassed. “Perhaps I didn’t enunciate his name clearly,” I said, explaining that I had been taken to meet not Dr. Theodor Herzl, but Dr. Theodor Hertzka, also a writer at the paper, also the author of a utopian novel, although his, Freiland, unlike Dr. Herzl’s Altneuland, had nothing to do with Palestine or a Jewish State. As my interview with Dr. Hertzka wore on, I became confused: Why on earth would the great Zionist leader go on and on about public land reforms and urge me to emigrate, not to Palestine, but to British East Africa, where advocates of his ideas had recently founded a model community? “But for that,” I told my sister sheepishly, “I might be a Zionist as well.” (These sorts of confusions continued to dog my life. For example: arriving in the Promised Land myself, years later, a Zionist in fact, if not in theory, I made a fool of myself by purchasing a large bouquet of roses and hiring a taxi to Bethlehem one bright and ringing morning so that I might lay them, as a tribute, to the Yiddish poet Itzik Manger beneath what I’d anticipated would be a plaque erected for him in Manger Square. How fortunate, I told myself on that bright day, how fortunate it is to live in one’s own country where one’s own squares may be named in honor of one’s own poets!)
-Joseph Skibell, from A Curable Romantic
J u l i a n a
P a c i u l l i
j u l i a n a p a c i u l l i . c o m
Beth Alice Cook
Beth Alice Cook is an interdisciplinary artist who experiments with collage, drawing, photography and performance. She is fascinated with human behavior, psychological theories, cultural differences and media trends. She graduated from the California College of the Arts with an MFA in 2005 and from Syracuse University in 2001 with a BFA in Photography and a BS in Communications. She lives and works in San Francisco, CA.
Beth Alice Cook writes: In graduate school, a professor told me that my artwork was too “emotional,” too “girly.” I thought, “Ok, I’ll give you ‘boy’ art.” The result was technical graphs, charts, and maps — though dealing with the same subject matter. At the time, the gesture was sort of a joke. All of the stories and classification systems I was employing worked better without photographic images; they became more universal, which was my original intention. So now I am an artist of information graphics, among other things. I hope that people look at the “Hamburger Theory of Love” and picture what their mate might look like as a metaphorical hamburger. I hope that they think about what they have been getting out of relationships and notice what they have avoided or been missing. And maybe “no cheese” is the way they like things; now they know. All of these works reference, and also play with, the institutions of psychology, sociology, science and popular culture. Occasionally I take my stories and inject them into systems that already exist, like the Solar System or an airplane safety card, and other times invent my own systems, rating sexual experiences, emotional investments and the quality of relationships, for example.
It seems that we all have a different way of viewing and interpreting ourselves, our relationships, and the world at large. I am interested in exploring how things look through various lenses, and sharing what things look like through the ones I often carry. The following pages are a selection of drawings created over the past several years. They are my stories, but they are also yours, at least they could be — try them on for size.
Beth Alice Cook
Emotional States, 2005 Pencil, Vellum
Mike Flight, 2005 Pencil, Vellum
Bypass, 2005 Pencil, Vellum
Assets and Liabilities, 2010 Pencil, Vellum
Sex History, 2010 Pencil, Vellum
Hamburger Theory of Love, 2010 Pencil, Vellum
Gabriel Welsch is author of the poetry collection, Dirt and All Its Dense Labor (2006). His poems, stories, essays and reviews appear in New Letters, Georgia Review, Tar River Poetry, Harvard Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Ascent, Mid-American Review, Isotope, Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Sou’wester, and several other journals. He has won a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artist’s Fellowship for Fiction, was the inaugural Thoreau Poet in Residence at the Toledo Botanical Garden, has taught at the Chautauqua Institution’s Writer’s Center, and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. He works as the vice president of advancement and marketing at Juniata College, and lives in Huntingdon, PA, with his wife and daughters.
Granola Jones’ Daddy Born under the dusk’s first bats, an evening in a field, as they rivered the humid air over where her mother had fallen, woodside. Emma Jones had crashed her daddy’s pickup avoiding a deer ghosted from corn— and had pressed her belly into the prong of wheel. Stunned womb, and though she ran her daughter Jewel saw the world field first, helped into the summer rye by a farmhand who’d answered the call of what he thought was a wounded lamb. Dog bay and wing flap, road rush and gravel scar, she learned her world the way she knows most women do: blunt end first, then a helping hand neither foreseen nor earned. And oh— that hand’s surprise at who he helped. How bold his brow, how fleet his feet, how sudden the dust rising in his wake.
Sweet William The only man I ever met who didn’t terrify me— not even a bit. My sister says that’s probably the source of the inertia. He brought me things—feathers, interesting rocks, photos of garbage he thought artful, new words he’d read, useful tools. He packed his passenger seat with things, to prepare for when my attention Gabriel Welch
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made them treasures. He told me little: a father dead, he glad of it. Spare and melancholy rooms he never let me visit. A sister somewhere. He never said it, but coral grew through his spine, ivy at his heart, long grass behind his eyesâ€” the reach of his hands barely more than accident, his hope to grow over and disappear by being within. He is a song I remember while driving, a matchbook in the back of a drawer. A dime in the couch. He is a post card from any beach, the surf known and familiar, under a name you canâ€™t pronounce.
Granola Jones and the Telemarketer Meet in the Hall Most days start with blood. The diabetic in the apartment across from me trembles in a housecoat on her balcony, pricking what is that day her least callused fingertip. She packs herbs in wax paper sachets for her son, a priest, who gives them to the women of his parish. This, too, she does on her balcony, under the watching eye of God. Or so she says. Next to her a man her age spends most afternoons obscured partly by cherry pipe smoke. When his daughters visit, I often hear them scold him, their voices tearing the screen door, bright raptors in the dark kitchen, rattling in the cinderblock garden of sand between my wing and theirs. Above those two are the scholars, two young men with hunches built with the weight of books, though they are stout. They Gabriel Welch
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eat poorly and, while I like to think it is against my nature, I want to cook for them, something reasonable, a meal that would make sense to them, one not uniform in its oily grey, its salted pull, one not simply filling and forgettable. They rise early, their windows gold and thrashing with silent shadows. In the hall, retrieving my paper, most days I meet the teacher, bristling with a riot of red hair and beard and the chaos of an apartment he shares with his wife and their new twin girls. Near to bursting, he bustles, and his broad hands hold a briefcase like a book, and I wonder how children get under those hands, how he holds chalk without crushing it, how the board doesn’t warp at his gravity, how he lives through the cries I hear at all hours, how he lifts those infants and in daylight wears the morning like a dream of happiness he wove himself. And for all of it, our building is still— with windows and rooms I do not know, and when I think about what happens here, what lives age these rooms, the urge for sense rages within me, and powerlessness warms the rooms, becomes dinner, becomes aspirin and lint and paperclips that sprout and grow everywhere. Every syllable overheard in the walls of this building, becomes a paperclip looking for meaning in a clasp. And when I see her, the voice we all here know, the voice we’ve all heard after dinner or at noon or among the channels we watch, she is dark matter, she absorbs the light of the hall, a moment bends to her will, and even the walls bow toward her, the hallway a sudden roiling tube, a funhouse mirror lined in cinder block and dull carpet whitened in a strip in the middle, and her eyes are rimmed in shadows and ruddy wrinkles, looking down, where her fingers twitch tarantella, some sign of the manic bloodstream of this building’s tremor and bustle, and before I can greet her she says
Do you hear the voices of this building? Do you call them and have them speak to you in Sanskrit, or Pashto, or Farsi, or Mandarin, or German, or Gaelic, even Gabriel Welch
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English broken and pidgin, do they murder you in words carved in a tongue, a noise not your own? Is your demise written somewhere, and does someone describe it for you? Everyone here has their story written downâ€”did you do it?
I wonâ€™t write the story until I know the end. How else do I know what matters?
The story makes the end, so it all matters. You just never know what to say to your own story.
I almost ask how she gathers wisdom about her like a patterned shawl, the flow of flowers or filigrees hard to follow, but I wait and consider a trail of meaning made in my life only by loss: loss of a man who helped build the house of my life and who perished when it burned, or vice versa. Loss of my womb, loss of my voice for a year, loss of those with whom I broke bread or tilled earth, loss of my place in any of a number of towns, loss I tried to outrun, loss I have come to find as my own, the voided font of voice, loss as fuel, a hollow engine of crushing silence, wielded against the noise of those who deny all that loss contains. Loss is articulate, loss is weighty, loss is this woman, loss is my body, power and weight, a voice to batter. Loss fires the blood, loss starts the day, blood fired is the day. If she were to stay in the hall long enough, I now know she would say, you: you suddenly. You, in loss, know.
Granola Jones Staggers into Knowingness at a Shelter Potluck and Fundraiser With the telemarketer, she drives to a potluck, a friend she knows through the shelter, someone else who has ducked knuckles and packed in the night, one an age ago in another state. And now she’s having a party. And they will go. And William is there, his body wracked electric and bowed like a divining rod, as he tries not to meet Granola’s gaze while seeking the telemarketer’s. He scoops tabouleh and hummus, bean salad and diamonds of pita, finds a place on the lawn and looks up, his face a clock of hope, one eye nailed to the cross the telemarketer bears around the party. And her husband is not there, is in no one’s thoughts save Granola’s. And the pawnbroker, he who has donated to the shelter every chair he can’t sell, a couch he didn’t want, dishes too heavy for his shelves, who has sculpted from his disdain and rejection a simulacrum of care, eats a small amount and drowns it in wine. And women wander the lawn, roost in groups, wear black and sandals. And their bones press against their skin, all shield and curve shorn from them, their necks hard as teeth. And as she watches William drink more beer than he should and as the pawnbroker gathers with men to flash their hidden smiles near a tree and as the telemarketer wishes she could speak what is trapped deepest within her, Granola moves. She moves into the dull brilliance. She moves among the tilt of lawn chairs and children spinning around the badminton net. She smells the men where they gather, long-necked and laughing into their shirts. She thinks they smell of meat and fire, waste and earth tremor, and there she finds William, tree-slouched, who on seeing her pushes his beer behind his back. She says his face is ash, clouds move over his eyes, and around her women stagger bearing the mark of booze, and she wonders why in the hell anyone ever thought it would be a good idea, here, to have coolers iced with bottles. She knows, yes, yes, it happens, people handle it, but here, amid this forest of arms sutured and stitched, where bones bear lines where they knit together again, where every moving limb under skin bears a narrative line where time fractured into loss, here where they have gathered to help, not here. If she could have kept herself from saying something, she would have. If she could have kept spite on a chain, she would have. If she could have carried her world in a bucket, set it under a tree, kept it from pushing what she knows upon everything she sees and does, she would have shown restraint—not for William, not for the despicable and disagreeable bastard by the tree, but for the women who themselves have managed to dismantle the world for a while and dance-step among its pieces. If she could have put the angel and his smart-ass benediction out of her mind, undid his accuracy, his snotty prescience, if she could have pushed past the feel of him, she might not have abandoned herself. But she does. She gripes at William about his beer, and then he starts, the man with fists like truncheons, fingers like rolls of quarters, knuckles fat and iffy as dice. She considers the hands, the usury there, their ability to lift and take, the flutter of blood, too, in the veins that throb blue across the back of them. She knows, then, though she doesn’t understand how, he’s never brought the back of his hand against anyone, he’s never raised a hand in anger. He’s no saint, but his hands, so big, so ready for damage, so thick, have not done their worst. Not yet.
R o s s
C a m p b e l l
o l d b o y r o s s . c o m
T e r r y
B e r l i e r
t e r r y b e r l i e r . c o m
Daniel J. Glendening Christy Gast Jeremiah Barber Ben Diller Taije Silverman Youngsuk Suh Nader Naderpour Joseph Skibell Juliana Paciulli Beth Alice Cook Gabriel Welsch Ross Campbell Terry Berlier
Published on Mar 4, 2010
Published by the University of West Florida, Panhandler is a national literary journal that features poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews...